By Alfred Morgan
Alfred Morgan was one of the first men in this country to possess a guide dog, and he has done more than any other to demonstrate the practical possibilities of the blind-man-and-guide-dog partnership. This article speaks of the war years, and the words convey the confidence and accomplishment of one for whom difficulties exist only to be surmounted.
“It is about eleven years since I started on my adventures with my Alsatian guide dog ‘Mowden Bella’. I think “adventurous” is the right word to use, for it is surely adventurous for a totally blind man to go gallivanting the length and breadth of the country. London, Brighton, York, Skipton, and North Wales coast – these were but a few of the dozens of places we visited in a partnership extending over seven years, in which we travelled well over 40,000 miles. Yes! I can substantiate those figures! And what adventures they were, and how pleasant!
When Bella died it seemed as though the bottom had dropped out of my world. I was blind again, until I was fixed up with another guide dog, a Border Collie named ‘Fly’.
I called her my “war dog,” because I brought ‘Fly’ home on September 2nd 1939, the day before was declared, and because the many war-time difficulties have had a large share in her development. Two days after we came home she began her active career as a guide dog, taking me to town by train and just as ‘Bella’ used to do. The first day, of course, I had to give her directions: right, left and forward, until we reached our destination. But the next day she was fairly sure of herself, and in two or three days, she knew as much about the route as I did myself.
Soon the war began to interfere with us. Our little suburban rail service was considerably restricted, so I decided to use a more popular electric train service. This meant using different stations and a new route through the town, a more difficult route that took me along the Dock Road, with its heavily dockside traffic. This road is crossed at frequent intervals by railway line connecting the dock sidings – the trains crossing the road like ordinary traffic. It is just impossible to think of a blind man tapping his way about unaided in such a region. Yet within a week ‘Fly’ and I had the situation well in hand. But then I had to reckon with war-time black-out as the days grew shorter, and trains, trams and buses were besieged by people clamouring to get home.
To meet this situation I decided to move nearer to my work so that I could walk to and fro without having to depend on transport. This meant a third change of route within two months, but ‘Fly’ soon made light work of it. But it wasn’t the finish of her education. Oh dear, no! I have friends in all sorts of places and she had to learn to take me to them, but it was not long before she could take me anywhere in the district. We have even been to our favourite playground, North Wales, and travelled and got about there without difficulty.
Then I had a chance to try out ‘Fly’ on ground that was absolutely new to both of us, for I received an invitation from Capt. Liakoff to visit the new training school of the Guide Dog for the Blind Association at Leamington Spa. One fine morning in July, ‘Fly’ and I left home, quite along, as always on these occasions, and made our way to the landing stage, crossed the river to Birkenhead by ferry, took a train which took us, after a change at Birmingham, to Leamington Spa.
As I handed in my ticket I asked the porter to get me a taxi, and we were soon at the training school. It had been a comfortable and uneventful journey. The thing to remember is that I am a total blind man, and although I could have done the journey without a dog – for I did quite a lot of long-distance travel even in the days when I was without a guide dog – I should have depended on getting assistance from people at the ferry, the railway station, etc. That was quite unnecessary now. ‘Fly’ saw to that. And so it was on the new “hunting ground,” and the roads of Leamington Spa were not long unfamiliar to us.
I have called ‘Fly’ my “war dog” and she deserves that description for the ways in which she enabled me to meet the consequences of “enemy action.” I am not giving away any secrets when I say that in those “blitz” days we had our share, and more, of that enemy action, with my place of employment right in the target area. After a raid the difficulties were often many, and not light ones either. Many times I left the house in the morning, not knowing which way to turn, for even in my my own neighbourhood, a purely residential one, many streets would be barred to traffic, and things got worse as we proceeded. Readers in “target areas” will understand what we were up against.
They were very real difficulties, quite bad enough for sighted people, but almost insuperable for a blind person. But ‘Fly’ did so well that I was able to get through some nine months of regular blitzes, getting to and from my work without the loss of a single hour. For some time after that blitz period tehe aftermath pursued me, for the work of demolition, reconstruction and repair went on for a long time, and time and again there was some new obstacle on my way to my work.
The number and variety of these obstacles was amazing, but more amazing still was the versatility with which ‘Fly’ tackled them. In most cases she knew just what to do and did it without hesitation. Now and again she came up against a tougher problem and had to put on her “considerable cap”. I am convinced – although I know that the subject is one of argument – that careful training can develop “reasoning powers” in these animals to a limited extent. Here is one instance that I can quote.
In our last big blitz, a large corner building on a particularly busy street – one which I have to negotiate – received a direct hit and was practically demolished. It was made safe for the time being, pending final demolition. A boarding was put round it, extending right to the edge of the pavement; this was particularly awkward as at this point the trams branch off the main road round the corner, and, since the road is rather narrow, come to within a few inches of the pavement. I therefore gave up using this corner and made “two sides of a square” to get to my objective. This made no difference to me, for ‘Fly’ was a quick and accurate worker. Then, however, the “repairers” arrived to do up the building, and as usual blocked up the pavements, so that I simply had to take a road on both corners.
This would not have matter much in ordinary circumstances, but on the first morning, while a tram was crawling round the awkward corner, a stupid and impatient motorist tried to slip through on the off-side, was caught by the back of the tram, which swung the car round and jammed it against a stationary vehicle. ‘Fly’ and I were crossing the road toward this very spot, which was our legitimate right of way. Mind you, we were in no danger. ‘Fly’ was too cute for that. When the jam occurred she stopped, weighed up the position at the blocked corners and the now blocked roadway, turned on her tail and walked back a few vehicles were there was a small space, and so gained the pavement. The pavement was still blocked in front of us, so, after hesitating a second, she deliberately went down a small side street and then along another at right angles and rejoined our usual route about 200 yards further down.
I vaguely remembered these streets, but had never been along them, and I did not check her. Some of the people who had watched this performance were not slow in voicing their amazement. One man put it rather tritely, if a little bluntly, when he said: “ She made a —- sight better job of it than most of us would have done.” And I quite agree. It was not question of routine. But ‘Fly’ dealt with the situation, without fuss and bother. And that is just one example of the job of work that my war dog has done.”